By Myles Ludwig
Deep in the heart of Tequesta, in the land of Lettuce Ware lovers and the birthplace of B-list movie star Burt Reynolds, I came upon an attractive tribe of tattooed ladies.
These were not the circus sideshow freaks of my childhood or the longhouse Dyaks with whom I bunked deep in the tropical jungles of Borneo, fierce former headhunters whose multiple tattoos tracked their life’s journeys, dreams and heads taken.
These ladies were adorned or deformed, depending on your perspective, and served as accessories to a collection of beachy fashion titled Nearly Nude by Bosha Johnson-Stone at the Lighthouse ArtCenter.
Tats seem to have become stylish again in this country some 40 years after their previous run of popcult symbolism of American motorcycle machismo, fashionable even among the unincarcerated. I spoke with Hayley Little, sleek in a yellow ensemble, fresh-faced and ponytailed looking like she might have stepped out of the Hilfiger family portrait, who admitted she had two, though she was not disposed to display them.
The exhibit at the Lighthouse ArtCenter curated by Janeen Mason ranges over the form and includes some fine specimens of skin art as well as a selection of haunting painterly photos of tattooing by Claudio Napolitano and a jejune watercolor of a Japanese sleeve of interwoven intricate forms by Jeff Kozan.
It’s a small show with a nod to Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry, two legendary practitioners as well as a marvelous Japanese advertising banner for a tattoo parlor. It would benefit by more referential data on wall labels.
The runway show floated gossamer and drapey fabrics in prints and solids over a moving canvass of assorted tattooed bodies. Some were quite elaborate, reminiscent of the kind favored by Japanese gangsters of the Yakuza or Yoichi Takabayashi’s 1983 erotic Irezumi (Spirit of Tattoo), which the New York Times described as a “romantically deceptive Japanese film about a young Tokyo secretary who, to please her middle-age lover, spends two years of her life having her back elaborately tattooed. A tattoo, like a diamond, is forever, but it can’t be hocked.”
But, unfortunately, the parade of amateur models at the ArtCenter was staged at eye level and didn’t enable an opportunity to fully appreciate their markings. For those less inclined to permanence, I understand the Lighthouse ArtCenter sells a kind of slip-on sleeve of tattooiana that seems quite realistic.
When I think about tattoos I often recall my uncle, a Seabee in World War II, who returned with an anchor engraved on his arm, and I think of the Lenny Bruce story of his own experience when he came back from the service with a typical sailor’s tat and a relative who freaked, saying he could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Just cut off the arm and bury the rest, Bruce replied.
The Lighthouse ArtCenter’s exhibit of tattoo art runs until early next month. Its upcoming shows include a ceramics exbibition featuring the Lettuce Ware of Dodie Thayer and plein air painting.
Tattoo: The Renaissance of Body Art runs through Nov. 2 at the Lighthouse ArtCenter in Tequesta. Admission: $10 for adults, free for members and children 12 and under. 10 am to 4 pm. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 561-746-3101 or visit www.lighthousearts.org.